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Opinion: Displays of hate and fear belong in past

The bonfire built close to Shore Crescent in north Belfast, featuring a profane reference to the Irish News.
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SEVERAL images over recent days sum up how far our divided society still has to travel, as well as what that journey could look like.

Many of the eleventh night bonfires lit over the weekend will have passed off without major incident, albeit at some environmental cost.

However, it was deeply depressing to again observe Irish tricolours, election posters and other offensive displays placed on some pyres.

More than 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, what is defended as a celebration of culture is too often a vehicle for hate-filled expressions that belong firmly in the past.

Among the most contentious bonfires this year was one sited on government land near an interface in the Tiger's Bay area of north Belfast.

Residents in the nearby New Lodge have complained of anti-social and sectarian behaviour including golf balls fired at homes from the structure.

Police refused to support contractors to remove the material on the basis it would increase risk to life and property.

Judges on Friday rejected two challenges, one by a resident and the other by infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon and communities minister Deirdre Hargey.

The court heard that police believed petrol bombs had been assembled and had 'untested' intelligence that firearms could also be used.

The message sent out by this episode is a familiar one but no less troubling for that.

Where it is possible to have some sympathy with police is the claim they are victims of political failure.

A long-awaited report by the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition was delivered to Stormont last July but has frustratingly still not been published.

Meanwhile, as nationalist ministers took legal action to force police to intervene at Tiger's Bay, senior unionists including new DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson engaged in a public show of support for bonfire builders.

By contrast, a hugely positive image to emerge at the weekend was that of First and Deputy First Ministers Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill laying wreaths side-by-side at a Royal British Legion event in Dublin to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

The Sinn Féin representative laid a laurel wreath while her DUP counterpart presented the traditional poppies, an example of how different perspectives on a shared history can be accommodated in a spirit of tolerance and understanding.

It is this message of mutual respect, rather than displays of hate or fear, that point the way to a truly shared future.

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